A quality circle is a tiny group of workers from the same work field who meet regularly and intentionally to identify, solve and implement solutions to work-related problems. A quality circle can also be defined as a group of people from the same work area, coming together willingly to identify work-area issues, analyze them and find solutions.
Characteristics of Quality Circles
The following are the characteristics of quality circles:
A) QCs are small groups comprising four to 15 members. Eight members of a team are considered to be the norm.
B) All members come from the same work area. This gives the circle its identity.
C) The members work under a supervisor, who is a member of the ring. The supervisor is usually, though notal ways, the leader of the circle. As a leader, he moderates the discussion and promotes consensus. The supervisor does not issue orders or make decisions. The members, as a group, make their own choices.
D) Circles usually meet once every week to discuss and solve the problems facing them.
E) Circle workers receive training in the commands of quality circle participation, the mechanics of running techniques and making management presentations and meeting of group problem-solving.
F) Circle members, not management, choose the problems they intend to work on, collect information, analyze the issues and develop solutions.
G) Technical specialists and management assist circles with knowledge and expertise, whenever asked to do so.
Process followed by Quality Circles
The circle members identify the work area problems, analyze them and find solutions. It aims to achieve the objectives through the development of people, the most important asset of an organization. The process of QCs involves:
1) The primary tasks of the circle members are the creation of a problem bank which performs by them only. Each problem bank is given a preference number depending on its benefit, urgency, and potential. Problem collection is an on-going process.
2) Problem analysis depends on circumstances and not on feelings. A good number of data collection tools, charts, and statistical techniques are available to establish facts, before continuing to find resolutions. In this philosophySubjective opinions have no place.
3) A proper condition, atmosphere, environment, and group thinking together with the expert in work area create adequate solutions to problems. Various alternative solutions are explored, and the optimum solution is chosen. Experience shows that the people involved in a work area are best equipped to solve its problems, and their answers are feasible and practical.
4) The management has to look the solutions which are chosen by the circle members, highlighting the benefits predicted. Acceptance of the solution acts as a powerful motivator.
5) After getting the sanction of the management, the circle members chalk out a schedule for the implementation of the solutions. The results are reviewed continuously, and follow-up action is taken, if required. In fact, review and follow-up is a continuous responsibility of the circle.
Benefits of Quality Circles
There are no financial rewards for QCs. However, there are many other gains, which primarily benefit the individual and in turn, benefit the organization. These are:
1) QCs facilitate self-development of individuals by bringing about attitudinal change, improving self-confidence and a sense of achievement.
2) QC is a consultative and participative programme where each member interacts with others. This interaction helps in developing team spirit.
3) QC members have a chance to learn new knowledge by sharing ideas, opinions, and experience.
4) Every person gets a chance to improve his leadership potential since any member can become a leader.
5) The management helps the members to improve their language skills after the joint problem solving and presentation. Thus, non-attainment of cherished objectives due to poor communication is avoided.
6) QCs encourage creativity by drawing the inoperative intellectual skills of the people. Individuals also perform activities different from daily routine work, which boosts their self-confidence and gives them tremendous job satisfaction.
7) QCs generate a tension-free environment in which each member likes, understands and co-operates with each other.
8) The individual interests generate a synergistic effect, leading to higher productivity, better quality, reduction in waste and cost-effectiveness. All these benefits are long-term, which bring about improvements over a period.
Important Conditions of Quality Circles
A quality circle is a group of workers under the leadership of their team leader who is trained to analyze, identify, and solve work-related problems and present their solutions to management to improve the performance of the organization and motivate, enrich the work of employees. There are some essential conditions of a quality circle. They are as follows:
1) The QC movement wants support from top management, and The top management should offer unconditional support to them. Reduction of support or its removal at a later date leaves the circles at a loose end. The top managers by participating frequently in the QC activities should also make the support visible.
2) The acceptable recommendations of the circle should be promptly approved to boost the enthusiasm of the members. If the recommendations are not accepted or delayed, the reason for the same should be explained to the members.
3) The objectives intended to be achieved can be achieved over time. QCs are a long-term approach. Overnight miracles can’t be achieved in QCs.
4) The QC theory should be appreciated by one and all. For this, a proper orientation at all levels needs to be undertaken. This will help in increasing everybody’s involvement in the movement.
5) The top management should praise the work of the members. This boosts the morale of the members and helps in sustaining their continued enthusiasm. The principle to be remembered is that morale trickles down from the top.
6) The top management should get the cost-benefit analysis done expeditiously. Delays can demotivate the members.
7) The middle management often entertains fears like becoming redundant, losing importance, being exposed, etc. The top level needs to take steps in this direction and ensure that such fears are dispelled.
8) Co-operation of the middle management and their identification of interests with circles is important. Lack of understanding of objectives leads to the diversity of interests and too misdirected goals.
9) A proper environment with mutual trust, faith and respect are necessary for QCs to thrive.
10) The success of a QC depends on largely on the leader. He has to take the initiative, be tolerant, appreciate the objectives, motivate the members and foster a feeling of oneness.